Dance Like No One’s Watching. Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt.
These words of inspiration annoy me a little whenever I pass the car, parked along my bike route to my favorite tea shop, that bears the bumper sticker upon which they are inscribed.
Wouldn’t you be an idiot to love like you’ve never been hurt? That’s how you love the first time you’re in love—when you haven’t been hurt yet, at least not by somebody you’re in love with—and look how that ends.
If you’re thinking, Well, I’m still with the first person I was in love with, and it hasn’t ended in horrible pain yet—just wait. I’m not being cynical; it’s going to end, one way or the other.
I remember the first time I was in love. I thought I was meant to be with this person, thought we should go to graduate school together, get a matching set of English PhDs, find one of those double job openings that are oh-so-common in the academic world, which would fortuitously enough be in some wonderful exotic city, and spend the rest of our lives writing obscure books and having babies.
When this plan did not pan out, we decided to continue living together in our three-bedroom apartment as roommates anyway, because, we reasoned, we were best friends and mature adults. You can imagine how that went. Suffice it to say, we drove our third roommate away by provoking horrible childhood memories of his parents’ divorce. My now-ex-boyfriend was forced to date women in secret for fear of upsetting me, and I lost ten pounds because I couldn’t stomach any food if he was in the apartment.
I’ve been in love a few times since then. I can’t say that I loved the same way, with the naïve expectation that the relationship would last forever, that this person was the one, my soul mate, that if this relationship fails then a part of my life has failed. I will never think any of that again, and if you’ve paid attention when you’ve been hurt, you probably won’t think it, either.
The advice on this bumper sticker, which, I just found out, dishearteningly enough, was written by Mark Twain (I assumed it was written by the same committee of hippy marketing experts who coined such bumper-sticker wisdom as Mean people suck), reminds me of something that my kickboxing teacher frequently says to me:
Don’t be scared to come in.
By come in, he doesn’t mean into my kickboxing school, although if I were thinking logically I would probably be scared to walk through the front door. No, my teacher says this when I am staring at a man who outweighs me by at least thirty pounds, who is faster and more experienced than I am, and who without a doubt will throw a very powerful, fast side kick at my stomach the moment I come six inches closer to him than I am now. Since I know he is going to do this, I should be able to avoid it happening, but so far, the only way I can prevent it is by staying approximately three feet away from him at all times, which is not conducive to fighting somebody.
Don’t be scared to come in, says my teacher, watching me tango with this opponent. He moves a step closer; I back up a step. He moves to the left; I move to the right.
Don’t be scared to come in. I know better than to be an insolent student, but I can’t help myself—I shoot my teacher an indignant look. Don’t be scared? Do I look like an idiot? Do you see his front leg, cocked and ready to throw the side kick at me before I have any chance of reaching him with any part of my body? Of course I’m scared!
I know what my teacher means: Don’t let your fear prevent you from coming in. That’s what we usually mean when we say “Don’t be scared”—be scared, but do it anyway. That’s the definition of bravery.
And I know what Mark Twain meant, too: don’t let your past experiences of being hurt affect your ability to love, without reservations, in the present and future. Just like fighting: when you get kicked hard in the stomach, you don’t stop fighting; you go back in. But you don’t go in like you’ve never been kicked in the stomach. You’d be an idiot to do that.